From education to employment

Net Zero and the ‘Level 3 and Below’ Curriculum

Dr Rebecca Conway, Head of Strategy and Policy at the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB)

A Green Industrial Revolution 

In November 2020, the government published their Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. It provides a vision for green growth with £12 billion of government funding promised alongside an estimated £42 billion of private investment and the creation of 250,000 new green jobs.

The roadmap, which sets out how the government plans to achieve their target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, illustrates the significant challenges we face in meeting our green ambitions while also highlighting the opportunities for economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.

Meeting Skills Needs

The Ten Point Plan illustrates the transformative changes required in industry – particularly in the construction, energy and transportation sectors. By 2030, it won’t be possible to purchase a new petrol or diesel car, paving the way for electric vehicles and a stronger focus on public transport and infrastructure.

In energy, the government has committed to move away from fossil fuels and towards clean energies generated by offshore wind, nuclear and hydrogen. As a recent report from the Engineering and Construction Industry Training Board suggests, this will require work drawing upon a diversity of skills as we look to decommission coal and gas sites and develop new technologies like hydrogen production, storage and synthetic fuel production from CO2 (see Towards Net Zero: The implications of the transition to net zero for the Engineering Construction Industry).

Collaboration will be key in meeting these skills needs. Awarding and assessment organisations already have an established track-record of working closely with employers, providers and professional bodies on the development of quality qualifications, curricula and apprenticeships. The government has a role to play here too in supporting agile development and encouraging innovation by streamlining funding and approval processes to remove complexity.

Level 3 Qualifications

Where qualifications have been developed in anticipation of future skills needs, an initial low uptake can be expected. Yet, funding is at risk for qualifications with low or no enrolments. The most recent list of qualifications slated for defunding by ESFA includes some related to electric vehicle maintenance. Where qualifications support the development of priority skills such as these, they should continue to be fundable while demand builds.

Low national uptake may also be a response to local variation in skills needs. For example, significant investment has gone into building offshore wind capacity on the Humber and the Tees. The recently announced Local Skills Improvement Plans provide an opportunity to focus on regional requirements as does the devolution of some of the adult education budget to Mayoral Combined Authorities and the GLA.

The CBI rightly identify reskilling and upskilling the existing workforce as a key challenge in meeting our green goals (see Skills and Training for the Green Economy – CBI Submission to the Green Jobs Taskforce, April 2021). Curricula should be designed to meet the needs of those retraining, allowing flexible delivery for those studying on-the-job or alongside other responsibilities. Ensuring funding opportunities that incentivise people to retrain is also essential.

Funding Upskilling and Reskilling at Level 3

In the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma heralds the role of free education that leads to a Level 3 qualification – which is part of the government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee – in supporting training for new green jobs. The problem is that this free education is only available to adults seeking to train and upskill to acquire a first Level 3. If adults with a Level 3 wish to train or reskill at Level 3 to enter green jobs, they will need to be prepared to take out income contingent fee-loans which are repayable on earnings above £27,295 per year.

The supply of Level 3 qualifications will be critical to kickstarting the Green Industrial Revolution. If the government views Level 3 qualifications as a key way to facilitate the reskilling required to achieve net zero goals, the Department for Education will need to review the attractiveness of fee-loans to adults and consider extending the principle of fully funded fee-grants to selected Level 3 qualifications.

Greening the Curriculum

It’s tempting to think about the impact of net zero on the curriculum purely in terms of developing technical skills in core sectors. Yet, as the London Assembly’s Economic Committee observes, moving towards net zero is a ‘change management’ exercise that will also require soft skills such as project management techniques to ensure a successful transition (see Future of skills in a low-carbon circular economy, Economy Committee – London Assembly, April 2021).

Net zero must be reflected across the breadth of curricula to adequately prepare individuals with the skills they need to work and live in a carbon neutral environment. Through the Teach the Future student-led campaign, learners have also called for a greening of the school and college curriculum. While this campaign suggests an eagerness on the part of learners to study climate change, 70 per cent of teachers surveyed felt that they had not been adequately trained to cover it (see Teach the Future). As the Aldersgate Group has observed, changes to teacher training programmes are required to support teachers in integrating net zero across the curriculum (see Upskilling the Workforce for the 21st Century).

Updating Standards and Qualifications

We don’t yet know what skills will be in demand for the green jobs of tomorrow so flexibility in the system is essential to enable a rapid response from awarding organisations, providers and employers. Although as yet unconfirmed, the government has proposed that technical qualifications at level 3 will soon need to be mapped to employer-led standards before they can be submitted for funding approval. A critical challenge for the supply-side of the post- 16 education and skills system will be to keep standards and qualifications up-to-date so they remain truly cutting edge.

Recommendation 1

The government must ensure that funding and approval mechanisms support and encourage agile development of curricula, apprenticeships and qualifications that meet emerging skills needs.

Recommendation 2

The government must provide appropriate funding incentives to encourage training and re-skilling at Level 3 and below to support the drive to net zero.

Recommendation 3

Net zero must be reflected holistically across the breadth of the post-16 curriculum.

Dr Rebecca Conway, Head of Strategy and Policy at the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB)

Racing to Net Zero – the role of post-16 education and skills

The UK needs comprehensive jobs and skills plan to successfully support and drive the transition to Net Zero.  

This is the conclusion of Campaign for Learning on publishing a new collection of expert views – Racing to Net Zero – the role of post-16 education and skills,

This pamphlet brings together experts on Net Zero and post-16 education, skills and employment policy. The sixteen contributors offer real insights about how post-16 education and skills policy can support the race to Net Zero here in the UK.

Contributors to Racing to Net Zero:

Shaun Spiers, Green Alliance Greening the Economy, Greening the Environment
Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute A more ambitious Net Zero ‘Economic, Jobs and Skills’ Plan
Paul Nowak, TUC Workers, Skills and the Net Zero Economy
Duncan Brown, Emsi The Demand for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Ewart Keep, University of Oxford Labour Market Intelligence for Green Jobs and Green Skills
Jane Hickie, AELP Filling Green Jobs with Level 2+ Apprenticeships
Calum Carson, ERSA Filling Green Jobs through Employment Support Schemes
David Hughes, Association of Colleges FE Colleges, Upskilling, Reskilling and Net Zero
Susan Pember, HOLEX Adult and Community Education and Net Zero
Nick Hillman, HEPI Universities and Net Zero
Bill Watkin, Six Form Colleges Association 16-18 Education and Net Zero
John Widdowson, Former FE Principal 16-18 Level 3 T Levels and Net Zero
Rebecca Conway, Federation of Awarding Bodies Net Zero and the ‘Level 3 and Below’ Curriculum
Charlotte Bonner, Education and Training Foundation Education for Sustainable Development and the FE Workforce
Adrian Anderson, UVAC Green Jobs, Apprenticeships and Higher Technical Education
Victoria Hands and Stephen Peake, The Open University Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education

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